[The following article is a selection of quotes adapted from the booklet entitled, Covenant Community and Church, chapter 1, which was edited by Steve Clark and published by Servant Publications, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA in 1992. It was originally written to provide a short general summary of what a Covenant Community in the Catholic Church should be. Its subject is simply covenant community life. It includes references to current Catholic Church documents.
Covenant communities have flourished in great variety since their beginnings some 50 years ago. While this document is addressed to Catholics involved in lay led renewal movements, it can be beneficial for many other Christian renewal groups as well. – ed.]
“Upholding each other in love and eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”Ephesians 4:2-3
The renewing work of the Holy Spirit
The church, the body of Christ, has Christ and his Spirit dwelling within. It has every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Yet it is in need of renewal. It is at the same time holy and always in need of being purified. It is continually pursuing the path of repentance and renewal (Lumen Gentium 9). Recognizing the predestined call and nature of the glorious church of God (Ephesians 5:27) should not lead to a failure to recognize the actual state of the people of God and their need.
The renewing work of the Holy Spirit is an ongoing part of the life of the pilgrim people of God. In every age, the Holy Spirit begins movements of renewal. Sometimes he does so through the ordinary forms of church life, sometimes through special interventions that may lead to new forms of Christian living.
We live in a special time of renewal … a time in which we cannot simply rely on the accomplishments or forms of life of the past. Rather we must live the unchanging life of Christ and his church in new ways. These have to be both more effective for our age and more faithful to what was entrusted to the church in the beginning.
Renewed living as brothers and sisters united in the Lord
As throughout the ages the Holy Spirit has been active among the Christian people to bring about renewal, groups of Christians have come together to respond. Many Christians have come together to perform some special services or foster spiritual growth with no further bond among themselves than that necessary for achieving particular goals.
But the human race is naturally social, and it has pleased God to unite those who believe in Christ in the people of God (see 1 Peter 2:5-10), and into one body (see 1 Corinthians 12:12, Acts 18). Therefore, the very nature of the Christian people is to be brothers and sisters in the Lord, one in the Spirit in the bonds of peace and mutual love (Ephesians. 4:3). Consequently, when the Holy Spirit renews his people, he often leads groups of Christians to join themselves to one another to live more fully the life together of the Christian people. Such a coming together is not intended as an alternative to the life of the church. Rather, it is a renewed living out of what the life of the church should be and so signifies the communion and unity of the church of Christ.
In our day, desire for such coming together is felt with greater strength because of the loss of natural community in society and in many parishes and congregations. With this has come the weakening of mutual help for the needs of human life and of mutual support for Christian living.
Beginning in the 1970s the Lord has brought into existence new forms of Christian life that are called covenant communities. They are covenantal because they are based on the voluntary commitment of members to one another in a serious way that is not necessarily lifelong and does not necessarily partake of the nature of a vow. The commitment is in the form of a personal covenant of brothers and sisters one to another that supplements and strengthens the relationship that comes from being baptized members of the church. They are communities because they share together their spiritual and material goods as a way of expressing their relationship as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
The relationship together of the members of covenant communities is personal and family-like, with a concern that extends to the whole of their lives. In that it contrasts to the partial and functional relationships that predominate in our society and tend to increasingly prevail in parishes and organizations.
There are many types of covenant communities. Some are primarily together for mutual support in Christian life and service, while others are missionary bodies, established to be available to the work of the Lord for particular services. Some are together for the renewal of the parochial or diocesan life of the church, while others engage primarily in an evangelistic or social apostolate in the wider society. Some are together to live a special spirituality, while others have no other spirituality than the common one of the church. All these communities are at one in their desire to live together as brothers and sisters their Christian way of life.
Relations to Others
While there are covenant communities whose members have a special life together in one location with common ownership of goods, most covenant communities are made up of Christians who live among non-Christians in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life. They engage in secular professions and occupations (LG 31). They are commonly involved with others in a variety of relationships out side the context of the covenant community.
Members of covenant communities should also recognize the great importance of unity among all Christians, one of the chief concerns of the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church. They should desire to cooperate in that movement which was fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit for the restoration of unity among Christians. They do so by prayer, brotherly love, and concern for renewal in the churches. … Sometimes members of covenant communities join with their brothers and sisters in the Lord who are from other church traditions for joint works of Christian outreach and service. They especially join in that evangelistic and missionary outreach that can be fostered by unity among the followers of Christ.
Members of some covenant communities, such as the Sword of the Spirit, also enter into brotherly relationships within a broader ecumenical community, relationships involving a bond of charity, prayer and witness with Christians or groups of Christians belonging to other confessions.
Top image credit: Radiant light streaming in a misty forest, from Bigstock.com, © by Subbotina Anna, stock photo ID: 124321013.
Steve Clark has been a founding leader, author, and teacher for the Catholic charismatic renewal since its inception in 1967. Steve is past president of the Sword of the Spirit, an international ecumenical association of charismatic covenant communities worldwide. He is the founder of the Servants of the Word, an ecumenical international missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord.
Steve Clark has authored a number of books, including Baptized in the Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, Finding New Life in the Spirit, Growing in Faith, and Knowing God’s Will, Building Christian Communities, Man and Woman in Christ, The Old Testament in Light of the New.